Some quick thoughts on the Breaking Bad series finale

*****If you haven’t watched last night’s Breaking Bad finale, you may want to skip this post until you do if you care anything about spoilers*****

 

I have been kind of obsessed with Breaking Bad since its pilot episode; while some series it takes a few episodes – or even seasons – to find its rhythm and its voice, Breaking Bad seemed to do that right out of the gate. After that first hour, I knew that I was going to be on board with the show for its duration, barring some unexpected dip in quality or storytelling. That is somewhat unusual for me, as I usually see promise in pilots and decide to give a show a chance to grow, rather than fully committing almost immediately. When it came to the adventures of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, I was a total ride or die chick. I had full faith in creator Vince Gilligan and his fantastic cast.

Last night, Breaking Bad came to an end and the story of Walter White was completed. After so many terrible series finales of other shows (Lost – I’m looking squarely at you), it was a relief to have a show be able to stick the landing and provide satisfying closure to multiple story lines. After weeks of putting the viewer through the emotional wringer, there was finally some closure: the Nazis and my boy Todd got what was coming to them, as did Lydia and, most importantly, Mr. White. The White family appears to be taken care of, with Walt discovering a way to get the money to them and by giving Skylar something to bargain with to extricate herself from her legal troubles. Jesse survived, finally freed from his actual and metaphorical slavery to meth. The emotional scars for many of these people will last a lifetime, but pretty much every storyline over the course of the series came to a close. As the series faded to black, there weren’t a lot of unanswered questions. It was all tied up in a neat little box.

However, I’m beginning to think that it was all a little too neat.

Don’t get me wrong – I really liked the series finale; my initial reaction was one of fist-pumping and saying how awesome it was. And parts of it absolutely were awesome. But upon sleeping on it, this morning I awoke to the same nagging concern that I chose to ignore in the excitement of watching it all unfold last night: it all unfolded a little too perfectly. After weeks of Walt’s plans all going to hell in a hand basket, everything that he needed to go his way last night ultimately did. He pulled off intimidating Elliot and Gretchen Schwartz, the gunning down of the Nazis and the poisoning of Lydia pretty much without a hitch and on his own (minus the much appreciated minor assist from Badger and Skinny Pete). It was emotionally satisfying, but I don’t know that it was particularly earned or in keeping with the series overall. Was it immensely satisfying to watch: yes; but in hindsight it mostly seemed pretty predictable and anticlimactic (though I didn’t see the bit with Elliot and Gretchen coming – I completely misread that one). Perhaps that was simply the finale that we needed after years of being on the roller coaster that is Breaking Bad. I just wish that it was all slightly messier.

Some other thoughts:

  • Did anyone ever go get Huell? Or is that poor bastard still sitting in the “safe house” waiting for someone to tell him it is OK to leave?
  • I wonder what life holds in store for Jesse. It’s not going to be easy for him, regardless of the short term joy that he had escaping.
  • I’ll admit, when I ordered my coffee this morning and asked for two Splenda, it gave me pause. I will now forever be worried that someone is slipping me Ricin.
  • Stevia can’t be happy with its association in the series.
  • Walt finally admitted that he used family to justify the real reason he did all this – he liked it. That was huge.
  • As much as I enjoyed Todd and his sociopath-ness, I am glad that Jesse got some revenge for Andrea’s cold blooded murder.
  • “Cheer up, beautiful people… this is where you get to make it right.” Never before has such a positive message sounded so terrifying.
  • I liked the series coming full circle, with Walt wearing basically the same outfit in the finale that he did in the pilot.
  • AMC almost ruined the finale with all the ad breaks. TOO MANY COMMERCIALS!

These are minor quibbles – ultimately I was very happy with the finale and while I might long a bit for a somewhat more ambiguous or less pat ending, I totally respect the story that Gilligan set out to tell and the choices he made. This was still an excellent finale and made me OK with one of my favorite shows going off the air. Thank you to Gilligan, Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul and everyone else associated with the show for giving viewers such a gift these past five years. Breaking Bad belongs in the pantheon of greatest shows of all time. In the end, despite my criticisms, the cast and crew of Breaking Bad gave us an A-1 ending.

What did you think of the finale? Sound off in the comments below.

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I Want To Be Sedated

Yowza – it has been an emotionally draining week for me. In the course of eight days I will have said goodbye to two of my favorite baseball players of all time – Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera – who are headed to retirement (and in the case of Rivera, Cooperstown). This Sunday I will say goodbye to one of my favorite television shows of all time, as Breaking Bad comes to its presumably violent and bloody end. Pair that with that one of the most disappointing birthdays that I’ve had in a very long time and I’m about ready to reach for some Xanax. I’m such a wreck today that every time I see a clip of Rivera leaving the mound for the last time in Yankee Stadium I bubble up, even though I was there last night and cried plenty witnessing this moment in history live and in person. I’m sure the fact that I am running on about 3.5 hours sleep is only exasperating the problem, but still – I’m a mess.

So I’m taking the weekend to get myself together; hopefully once the Breaking Bad finale airs I’ll be back to normal. In the meantime, I keep re-watching this clip from Late Night with Jimmy Fallon to cut some of the melancholy. You can’t be sad when you are watching The Muppets. That’s a proven fact.

 

Have a great weekend everyone! And please keep your fingers crossed that nothing happens to Jon Hamm, Fallon or any of the cast of Arrested Development in the next few days. I don’t think I could take it.

Prisoners – A Review

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare: your child goes missing. Somewhere between your neighbors’ home and yours, she has vanished into thin air. There is a person of interest in the case, who your gut tells you had something to do with the disappearance even if there isn’t enough evidence to hold him in police custody or make an arrest. How far would you go to find out what he knows? Almost every parent I know has said that not only would they die for their child, they would kill for them as well. The new film Prisoners examines what characters do when they are actually put in that situation. To say it in the abstract it one thing; having to actually do it is quite another.

Prisoners is at times a hard film to watch and forces you to consider what your behavior would be given these same circumstances. What I particularly liked about the film was the ambiguity that the story embraces; the viewer has the same limited information to go on as the characters. Much like Hugh Jackman’s character, we don’t know for sure that this man was involved in the abduction. As the action in the movie escalates, that hint of doubt is what makes this an interesting story. It we knew that Alex (Paul Danp) was guilty, it would be much easier to cheer on Jackman. But that uncertainty is more realistic and the possibility that this is an innocent man forces you to constantly re-evaluate your own value system.

The movie is greatly enhanced by its stellar cast. Prisoners benefits greatly from the outstanding actors it assembles – Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Melissa Leo, Dano, Maria Bello, Terrance Howard and Viola Davis – who bring an authenticity and intensity to the story. Jackman, Gyllenhaal and Howard are particular standouts that do a lot of the heavy lifting of the film. As the fathers of the two girls that are missing, Jackman and Gyllenhaal successfully bring to life the anguish and panic of the two men while also highlighting their ethical limits. Gyllenhaal is quite good as the cop who is tasked with this case; it is a less flashy role than the others, but it helps to ground the film. The scene when he is racing to the hospital is so intense that I didn’t even realize that I was holding my breath until it was over. The women of Prisoners are also very good, but this is predominantly the men’s story. A lesser cast would have derailed this movie, but in the capable hands of these accomplished actors provide just the right emotional tenor to make Prisoners a suspenseful and gritty tale.

However, Prisoners is a good, not great movie. What holds it back is a convoluted ending that in attempting to explain everything is rushed and confusing. The reveal was not totally unexpected, but there was so much to unpack in such a short amount of time that it was ultimately unsatisfying. I don’t know that I fully followed all of it and I’m no dummy. I really didn’t need a full explanation; it didn’t matter why all of this happened, just that it did. The last scene in particular may be slightly polarizing; I didn’t necessarily have a problem with it, but I could see why people would find it unsatisfying.

The film would have also benefitted from just a smidge more character development for the leads. We don’t really have much of an idea of what these families were like before the disappearance. Jackman gives a very powerful performance, but I think that his actions would have been even more significant if we had just a little better idea of who he was before he was put in these extraordinary circumstances. There are hints of this for some of the characters, but not a lot.

Prisoners is also a very long movie, clocking in at almost 2 hours and 30 minutes. That is a lot of time to be wallowing in the darkness and the movie definitely feels on the long side. Cutting the story down a bit would go a long way in making this film feel less like an endurance challenge.

Some other thoughts:

  • This is a beautifully shot movie. The cinematography is really spectacular. It is both gritty and lush.
  • The film employs a lot of tight shots of Gyllenhaal’s face. That dude blinks a LOT. It’s kind of disconcerting.
  • This film further proves that Jackman is a versatile actor; he really can play just about anything.
  • Gyllenhaal’s last name in the film was Loki and I couldn’t help thinking of this guy every time it was used:

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Prisoners is a compelling film that forces the viewer to think about what they would do in similar circumstances. It may be a step short of a great film, but the excellent performances are not to blame. Jackson and Gyllenhaal lead a fantastic ensemble cast that have created a taut thriller where the pressure slowly builds as the story unfolds. The rushed final act prevents the film from really sticking the landing, but Prisoners is still tells an intense, if sometimes uncomfortable, tale. Parents will hug their children a little tighter after this film.